OPINION: Government must leave private firms alone

My very awkward question this week is for those PROs in the private - and especially privatised - sector of the economy. When are you going to get your principals to tell the Government to get stuffed? I have sat for 43 months more in hope than expectation that somebody would have the guts to do so since the justification has been all too often at hand.

My very awkward question this week is for those PROs in the private - and especially privatised - sector of the economy. When are you going to get your principals to tell the Government to get stuffed? I have sat for 43 months more in hope than expectation that somebody would have the guts to do so since the justification has been all too often at hand.

I don't want to be disappointed for a whole Parliament but I fear I shall be. Business has always been incredibly supine, not to say crawling, in its approach to government.

And look where it has got it. The public utilities were bludgeoned with a pounds 4bn 'windfall' tax to pay for a grossly expensive and probably useless New Deal programme to get youngsters off the dole. At a stroke, vast resources were siphoned out of the water industry's huge environmental investment, which was providing real not make-work jobs, for an empty political gesture.

Do you ever recall the water industry's anger busting a valve? I don't.

But, four years on, what happens again? Why, Chancellor Gordon Brown threatens the oil industry with another 'windfall' tax if it doesn't cut its petrol and diesel prices. And do you hear the commanding heights of our great oil industry telling him where to put his threats? Of course you don't.

All you hear is a pathetic whimper that we can't go on cutting petrol prices unless the Chancellor cuts his taxes. Instead, an oil industry which has a grasp of strategic PR as well as commercial reality would stand up and bluntly demand evidence from the Chancellor of a lack of competition. That would leave him stumped. It would also be issuing with every bill at the pumps a note in bold showing how much Gordon Brown is taking of the motorist's money. Don't tell me that in these computer-programmed days it couldn't demonstrate in Technicolor on every receipt just who is the highwayman in the great petrol price robbery. And if he then got stroppy, it could tell Mr Bully Brown that if he persisted he would soon see the oil goose waddling away from the North Sea where it lays its golden eggs.

Then there is the case of Railtrack. The way John Prescott treats it you wouldn't think it was privatised and answerable to shareholders as well as the public. So not surprisingly 'Two Jags' goes on bossing it about regardless of the limited powers invested in him by law - or the facts, such as the increased investment under privatisation, the inevitable mess created by a proliferation of regulators, and the worse chaos caused these last few months by a hysterical Prescott allied with a hysterical media. So what happens next? The red-tape minister, Lord Haskins, and not the competition authorities, is set to inquire into BT. But will BT tell him to get stuffed? As John Wayne said: 'That'll be the day'.



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